Commentary

Chemical Threats to Biodiversity

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “mutagenesis” by environmental pollutants is a serious concern. The problem with chemical threats is they are hard to see and perhaps harder to control. A set of answers is conceptually easy but much harder to plan and implement and will take much longer but we need to start working on it.
Photo by Adrien Converse on Unsplash
Published on
February 17, 2023
Contributors
Allies and Partners
No items found.

ACES Leadership and Youth Corps

Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Innsmouth is a mythical town on the trainline just south of Newburyport described in a popular 1931 novel. The authorH.P. Lovecraft describes a journey taken by a 21-year-old Oberlin Collegestudent exploring New England. While traveling he learns of a race of immortal fish-like humanoids known as the Deep Ones living in Innsmouth. They areshapeshifting mutant sea creatures born from mating with the local humans living on isolated marshes.

That was science fiction, but mutations due to chemical pollutants are real. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “mutagenesis” by environmental pollutants is a serious concern.Various mutagens pollute air, water, and food, possibly inducing mutations in humans, and are suspected of causing cancer and infertility.

There are many examples of threats to biodiversity including our own species. For instance, there is the chemical pollution issue like DDT that caused Eagle populations to plummet before its use was banned.

Unfortunately, there are other threats to biodiversity due to chemical byproducts in the 21st century. Things like PFAS (forever chemicals), PAHs found in coal tar parking lot sealants, and pharmaceutical residues from, well, everything in the medicine cabinet, that ends up in our wastewater stream. The problem with chemical threats is they are hard to see and perhaps harder to control. 

After many years of research and genetic manipulation, our food system is too full of chemical weed killers, fertilizers, and pesticides. We have largely monocultures with fewer varieties of livestock, trees, and grains, and many fewer insects and birds and bees that provide much needed biodiversity.

While New Hampshire and federal officials in 2019 said that Nashua’s drinking water was safe, that was despite some tests in that period showing elevated levels of toxic PFAS chemicals in the groundwater at the “Sylvester” Superfund site. It’s a site nearby the Nashua River, a major tributary of the Merrimack. It’s good that it was detected. But how many sites and spills along the Merrimack’s long journey to the sea are still undetected? Is testing adequate? Our problem is we can’t fix what we don’t know about. More research is needed.

A set of answers is conceptually easy but much harder to plan and implement and will take much longer but we need to start working on it.

We must shift away from many of the chemicals used in everyday life as best we can. We need to encourage farmers to crop rotate more and switch to natural fertilizers and pesticides given that they leech into streams and affect all the life forms it touches. Maybe heavily taxing or banning harmful chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides will foster change. Maybe we should consider banning PFAS and PAH from all non-critical uses where they can negatively impact all species.

We need to measure a wide range of pharmaceutical residues in waste waters discharged into rivers, including theMerrimack and all tributaries. We don’t know enough about mutagenesis yet and we must do much more academic research to gather the needed data. How much birth control and other hormonal residue is in our wastewater effluent? Is it affecting fertility and hormone balance in populations affected? What else might be in our waters and in our air that isn’t water or air? Which household products should we avoid, and which should we choose? Using AI, scientists, given time and funding, may be able to help identify priorities for change.

All species living in the Anthropocene, the age of human domination of the Earth, are under threat from mutagenic harm due to chemical and biological pollutants. We need to clean up our act in that regard. Let’s figure out how to move toward an environment with fewer chemicals and fewer stressors for all life forms. We can start by reading labels and buying the least harmful products for home and garden use.

Our Youth Corps asks you to consider how any chemicals are used and impact us. They hope everyone will care about the future of our planet and provide any thoughts about a project or practice that could counter the negative impact of any chemical. Send us a note at acesnewburyport@gmail. com . To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit www.aces-alliance.org.

Commentary

Newburyport Four Years Later

by Jack Santos
Commentary

Perseverance Pays Off

by Lon Hachmeister
Commentary

World Environment Day & World Ocean Day

June 5 and June 8
View all